Hospitals connect through video-conferencing

New technologies introduced to reduce wait times and improve access to medical care for young patients

Psychiatric services will soon be at the fingertips of young patients through the use of new video-conferencing technology.  Whitby Mental Health Centre (WHMC), Lakeridge Health Network, Peterborough Regional Health Centre and Ross Memorial Hospital in Lindsay have teamed up for the development of what is being called a virtual emergency room.

The services will be available at each partnering hospital in about nine months, allowing access to a scheduled roster of child and adolescent psychiatrists. The doctors can provide face-to-face assessments in real-time through video psychiatry with patients at the participating hospital closest to their home.

Reducing wait times and increasing patients' access to health professionals is a long-running mandate for the Ministry of Health and video conferencing is a great step towards that goal, said Sheila Neuburger, vice-president of clinical services at WHMC. Youth patients in the Central East Local Health Integration Network will receive more timely and specialized intervention, primarily those living in remote areas, she added.

"One in five children in Ontario struggle with a diagnosable emotional, mental or behavioural disorder. The virtual emergency room is an innovative approach to better utilize trained mental health experts from different hospitals."

These highly specialized services shouldn't take away from the personal interaction between the patient and doctor as they are meant for assessments rather than for ongoing therapy and a nurse will be present with the youth for support, Ms. Neuburger said.

Officials believe the hospitals' collaboration will significantly enhance diagnosis, treatment and followup practises at all the locations.

"Timely assessments are important for the safety and recovery of our patients," Lakeridge Health child psychiatrist Dr. Albert Massabski said. "My colleagues at the partnering hospitals and I are excited to have this new technology to better serve our communities."

This method of consultation is limited but better than the alternative of keeping patients waiting so health professionals are embracing the innovative move, Ms. Neuburger said.

"I think there is an understanding (among staff) that we are now working in an integrated network and not working in isolation so the hospitals have come together to create this program to meet those needs . . . and there has been enthusiasm for it."

The partnering hospitals are working on an operation plan with the first phase beginning in the fall and later expanding to other hospitals in the Central East LHIN.

Reprinted courtesy of the Durham Region Media Group